Bioethics Blogs

China’s plans for research-grant reforms get cautious welcome

Last week, China quietly announced a reform plan aimed at overhauling its competitive scientific funding system. The new system, though only vaguely defined, will take the bulk of competitive funding and redirect through five new channels. It could, some commenters observe, even lead to a dissolution of are a drastic restructuring of the ministry of science and education. But will it be a real reform or just lip service?

According to Chinese media sources, the reforms will streamline distribution of grants and reduce the amount of duplicated experiments. But the problems in need of fixing run much deeper than inefficient use of funds, says Richard Suttmeier, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Oregon who has consulted the Chinese government on science policy. Suttmeier says there is a “pressing need” to fix the current funding arrangements, which “tend to produce derivative research and have contributed to misconduct and corruption”.

Various scientists and policy experts, including Suttmeier, are hoping the reforms will dramatically alter the way science is practised in the country and, while details are still are not clear, welcoming the news with caution.

No one expects a destabilizing, overnight change. Xue Lan, a government policy and management expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing, does however warn that in the “medium term” there might be a period of confusion, during which the “many familiar programmes are consolidated and the agencies running them change”. Eventually, he says, grants will be more substantial and scientists will be able to “focus on their research without having to run around to get bits of grant here and there,” Xue adds.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.